How Long ?

  • Do you find yourself asking “Why hasn’t God stopped the pandemic yet?”
  • How would you respond to someone asking that question?

In John 11, we read that Jesus gets word that his friend Lazarus is ill in Bethany.  Yet, Jesus decides not to go immediately to him.  Later, Jesus says to his disciples that they should go, however by this time, Lazarus has died and in fact has been in the tomb for 4 days.

We started our Sunday Night Church discussion with the two questions I asked above.  There was an immediate concern not to doubt God and most people answered both questions to the effect that we should not question and that we can trust God’s plan even when we do not understand it.  Trust in God’s providential care and sovereignty is 100% spot on at a time like this. We can trust him to be loving and good.

However, listen to these words

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?[1]

The question “How long” is a natural and a Biblical one that we find expressed in the Psalms. We see it again  in Revelation 6:10  where the saints under the altar cry out to God for justice.  So, if you have found yourself praying to God along those lines that is completely okay.

I certainly have found myself asking how long this will go on for. To be sure there is that stage at the start of a crisis where adrenaline kicks in and we are all caught up in the drama but that will only carry us so far. The longer the crisis continues, the harder it becomes to sustain energy.

I want this crisis to stop because

  • Human suffering is painful to watch. This is not just about the physical suffering of fighting an illness. This week we buried a dearly loved church member and having to do a funeral where most people could not be physically present heightens the sense of grief and loss.
  • The longer this continues, the bigger the economic impact and that will mean job losses.
  • A lengthy lockdown is likely to have a frightening impact on emotional health, especially for those who struggle with anxiety and depression.
  • The disruption to normal life and lockdown is going to put stress on relationships in households
  • The pandemic puts the vulnerable at risk to domestic violence and child abuse.
  • I  long for the time when we can meet together in our building for worship again. God has been doing good things at this time but there are also many things we rightly miss.

The “How long O Lord?” prayer is as important as the “We are trusting God” prayer because there is a risk that we express that trust in a way that appears or even becomes insensitive or blind to the suffering of others. God is at work, we see people seeking him at this time. But I have heard comments to the affect that there were more people at online Easter services than normally attend and calls to rejoice which come across as tone deaf and triumphant. Imagine hearing or reading such words as you grieve the loss of a loved one. Compare that to the saviour who knows that a situation is about to bring glory to God but who also stops to weep, who is compassionate, who is not just sad but also angry at the painful and wicked cost of sin.

The “How Long O Lord?” question is also important because the Psalm does not stop there. The question and the plea for God to act come not in the context of doubt and despair but in trust and hope. “How Long Oh Lord ?” moves naturally to this conclusion:

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me

[1] Psalm 13:1-2

[2] Psalm 13:5-6

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